- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

TAMPA, Fla. — The odds of the NHL’s worst team, the Washington Capitals, beating the league’s lone remaining unbeaten team last night were longer than Red Pollard’s on Seabiscuit at Santa Anita.

While last night’s upset won’t be captured in celluloid, it remained a significant one for the struggling Caps, who got first-period goals from Dainius Zubrus and Robert Lang and rode the goaltending of Olie Kolzig to a stunning 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Not only were the Caps losers of six in a row on the road, they hadn’t scored more than two goals in their past nine games. Tampa Bay was 7-0-1 this season coming in.

“That was our biggest victory of the year, no question,” Kolzig said.

And Zubrus said Kolzig was unquestionably the difference-maker.

“Olie was the best player on the ice by far,” Zubrus said of Kolzig, who stopped all 18 shots in the first period and 41 of 42 overall.

Zubrus scored twice, Lang and Sergei Gonchar each recorded three-point nights and Jaromir Jagr had a goal and an assist as coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to put his top players — Lang, Jagr and Peter Bondra — together paid off handsomely.

“Our big guys came through,” Cassidy said. “It was Olie’s best game of the year. Some of our goals weren’t great goals, but that’s what happens when you go to the net.”

Despite their horrid play during the season’s first month, the Caps improved to 17-3-1 in their last 21 regular-season games against the Lightning. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the blown two-game lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last year, a series Washington lost to Tampa Bay in six games.

“This isn’t sweet because of last year,” Cassidy said. “It’s sweet because they’re the first-place team in our division and we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”

Indeed, the Caps (3-8-1) were greeted with mocking circus music when they came out for their pregame warmup. And early on the ice seemed tilted toward the Washington end. After 5:51, Tampa Bay had an 8-1 edge in shots, but the game remained scoreless.

“I’m sure they were saying in their dressing room, ‘Get on them early and the game will be over,’” Kolzig said.

Kolzig stoned Dmitry Afanasenkov on a point-blank backhand at 9:18 as Brendan Witt was whistled for holding. After Kolzig made another good save on Cory Stillman from the slot, Zubrus burst into the Tampa Bay zone, skated around defenseman Brad Lukowich and tucked the puck past goalie Nikolai Khabibulin at 10:56 for Washington’s first short-handed score of the year. It also gave the Caps their second lead on the road.

“I had good speed, and when you get chances like that, you don’t want to miss the net,” Zubrus said.

Not long after a high-sticking penalty on Jagr expired, Gonchar fired a shot toward Khabibulin from the right point with Jagr’s new linemates, Lang and Bondra, lurking in front. Lang tipped the shot into the net at 18:36 for his team-high fifth goal, and the Caps had their first two-goal lead since their opening night rout of the New York Islanders.

Washington gained its first power play at 2:49 of the second period but failed to add to its lead, although Brian Willsie hit the left post just before the advantage expired. The shots were 22-9 Lightning when Martin Cibak’s elbowing penalty left them a man down at the 6:31 mark. Just 21 seconds later, Jagr flipped the puck from a bad angle down low and watched it trickle off Khabibulin’s arm and into the net for his fourth goal.

Fifty seconds later, the frustrated goalie slashed Willsie. That Washington power play lasted 10 seconds before Jagr roughed Jassen Cullimore, but before Tampa Bay gained the extra skater, Jeff Halpern took a pass from Lang and easily beat Khabibulin at 8:56. Khabibulin went to the bench, having surrendered four goals on 11 shots.

Notes — Washington finishes a stretch of 11 games with nine on the road tomorrow in Philadelphia before beginning a four-game homestand Saturday. … Left wing Matt Pettinger sat out a second straight game with a mild concussion but hopes to resume skating today in Philadelphia. Left wing Kip Miller was the lone healthy scratch for the third straight game.


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